"How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?" is one of PRB's most popular articles. First published in 1995 and updated in 2002, this latest 2011 article includes data through mid-2011 and a short video explaining the estimate.
(October 2011) The question of how many people have ever lived on Earth is a perennial one among information calls to PRB. One reason the question keeps coming up is that somewhere, at some time back in the 1970s, a writer made the statement that 75 percent of the people who had ever been born were alive at that moment.
This factoid has had a long shelf life, even though a bit of reflection would show how unlikely it is. For this "estimate" to be true would mean either that births in the 20th century far, far outnumbered those in the past or that there were an extraordinary number of extremely
old people living in the 1970s.
If this estimate were true, it would indeed make an impressive case for the rapid pace of population growth in this century. But if we judge the idea that three-fourths of people who ever lived are alive today to be a ridiculous statement, have demographers come up with a better estimate?
Any such exercise can be only a highly speculative enterprise, to be undertaken with far less seriousness than most demographic inquiries. Nonetheless, it is a somewhat intriguing idea that can be approached on at least a semi-scientific basis.
And semi-scientific it must be, because there are, of course, absolutely no demographic data available for 99 percent of the span of the human stay on Earth. Still, with some speculation concerning prehistoric populations, we can at least approach a guesstimate of this elusive number.
How Many People Have Ever Lived On Earth? 108 Billion